Santa Maria de Guadalupe

Posted: October 16, 2011 in Figuratively Speaking, Santa Maria de Guadalupe

“Our Lady of Guadalupe”

Santa Maria de Guadalupe

(Written for my Spanish 101 assignment)

            In 1531, in the small farming village of Tepeyac (five miles north of what is now known as Mexico City), lived a poor Aztecan farmer named Juan Diego.  According to church doctrine, he is at the foundation of what would be a tremendous turning point for the religious direction for the people of his time.  The legend of his story begins during an afternoon on December 22nd, while on his way to mass (the sacramental “breaking of bread”) at his church.  While on his walk, he noticed a bright light coming from the top of Tepeyac hill.  He decided to investigate its source and climbed the hillside.  What he discovered has turned into both a mysterious ‘sign from God’ to millions of followers, and an unsolved phenomenon to skeptics and scientists.

To his amazement, once Juan arrived at the source of this brilliant light, Jesus’s mother, the Virgin Mary, appeared in front of him.  She explained to Juan that she was sent from God to instruct him to build a temple on this very spot, and he must go immediately to relay this to the local village priest.  Juan questioned this request by saying, “But he will never believe me.  I’m just a poor farmer.”  Soothingly, she replied by saying that he needed to have faith that he would believe.

Juan did as he was told and visited with the powerful, but kind, Bishop.  As he guessed, the Bishop did not believe this story.  He was a skeptical man and demanded that some form of proof should be presented with this claim.

Discouraged, Juan left the chambers and returned to the hill to talk to Mary about what happened.  Mary assured him to not worry about this.  She then asked him to continue to the top of Tepeyac and find some roses to offer to the Bishop.  So, he did as told.  Once he reached the top, he was amazed to find it blanketed in Rose de Castille (The Rose of Castille), a pink, loosely petalled flower which had never been observed to survive in winter months.  It normally needs a full summer sun to flourish.  But, there it was all the same.

Juan gathered as much as he could in his Tilmátli, a cape-like garment made of ayate fibers (a course material derived from the threads of the maguey agave).  He took the roses back to the Bishop as an offering for the proof of his claim.  At first the Bishop seemed curious as to how he could find a rose which wasn’t supposed to be in season, but as Juan let the flowers fall to the ground, they witnessed the miracle he’d been sent for.  The pigment from the roses had left a large color imprint of the Virgin Mary on the front of his tilmátli.  The Bishop fell to his knees and exclaimed that it was indeed a sign from God and that it should be displayed for all to witness first-hand.

The cape was placed in a special facility for public viewing.  In the aftermath, within 3 years, millions of Aztec Indians converted to Roman Catholicism.  A shrine was then built on the same hill where Juan first spoke with Mary.  Her image was prominently hung on the wall and titled, “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (after a village in Spain).  Over the centuries to follow, the Catholic church allowed details to be added, including a cherub, gold coloring, as well as the red and white colors of Mexico.

Since 1976 it has been housed behind glass in a special facility.  Each year millions of devout followers travel thousands of miles to worship, admire, and pray to this image.  However, there has also been skepticism throughout its history, including priests of the church itself.  In 1789, a skeptical priest asked a group of physicians and eleven master artists to test the authenticity of this ‘miracle’.  The first century of its display it was subjected to a high concentration of salt peter in the humid desert air.  While the possibility of this cactus-cloth surviving more than 20 years without being overrun and destroyed by fungus seemed highly unlikely, let alone almost 500 years, it remained a mystery as to how it could be so.  Considering the odds against it, the pigment remained and the material hasn’t suffered much from cracking, nor has it lost any of the original colors.

In 1979, Americans Jody Smith and Phillip Callahan were given permission to study Mary’s image using infrared scanning technology.  They determined that no special techniques had been used to preserve the cloth, as well as no “undersketch” (the first-draft sketch most artists use when creating a portrait).  While this hardly proves it to be a miracle as defined by the millions upon millions of people who continue to believe this as a sign from God, it does perplex skeptics who have no solid conclusion to lay claim to its odd-defying longevity.

Santa Maria de Guadalupe:  Her message of love, compassion, and her universal promise of help and protection to all, remains a solid part of the Catholic belief and a bewildering topic of discussion for many others.



Unsolved Mysteries:

Mexican holidays and traditions:

Rose of Castile:


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